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Rising Phoenix: 1,400HP Twin-Turbo '79 Trans Am

More likely than not, the classic cars that you were around and wished you had while growing up are the ones to build when you have the skills and money to do so later in life. In the case of Jessie Jewart; owner of Jessie’s Performance in Fort Worth, Texas…he looked to build not just the type of car his family had growing up, but the exact car that he, his father, and his brother spent hours in the sun tinkering on. And the result is a timelessly styled late ‘70s muscle car with way more power and capability than his adolescent mind could have ever dreamed up.

1979 Pontiac Trans Am rear driver side profile

That car is a 1979 Pontiac Trans Am, you know, the same model of muscle car driven by Burt Reynolds in the Smokey and the Bandit movies. The second-generation Trans Am saw its 10th anniversary in 1979 and was named the best handling car of the year. It was also a year that a line in the sand was drawn between raw muscle power and emissions controls. In future versions, GM looked towards smaller engines with turbochargers to make up the difference when compared to larger engine sizes.

1979 Pontiac Trans Am front driver side profile

Family Trans Am

Jessie’s Trans Am in particular was not only a family car handed down to him, but was the canvas used when he was learning to work on and restore cars for a living himself. His father had traded their only car at the time for the Trans Am that needed some work. They worked on it together, and later it would be Jessie's high school car but he often took a left instead of a right turn at the stop sign, ditching class to work on his ride. It saw several incarnations throughout the years due to some motor upgrades and accidents before seeing its first restoration when Jessie and his wife opened up their own shop; Jessie’s Performance in 2014. Not long after being completed, the bird was wrecked by his brother.

1979 Pontiac Trans Am driver side profile

Seeing an opportunity for the phoenix to rise once again; Jessie bought the totaled Trans Am from the insurance company and used the leftovers to craft a modern muscle car capable of not only outputting, but handling up to 2,000hp.

1979 Pontiac Trans Am front end

Twin Turbo Charged

When Jessie set about fully restoring and building the Trans Am this time; he had plans for plenty of power. He made sure that all of the other parts of the car could stand up to the 1,400 horsepower and 1280 ft. Lbs. of torque that would come thanks to a DART 427 SHP Pro LS block that was bored out to 4.125 with a 4-inch stroke by Och’s Performance. Tough performing internals were then topped off with a Frankenstein Billet intake manifold and the crown jewels; a set of dual Xona Rotor 76mm turbos all controlled by a Holley Dominator EFI.

1979 Pontiac Trans Am Engine bay with twin-turbo 427ci V8

Funneling out the exhaust gases and supplying the turbos is a set of custom turbo headers mated to a full custom stainless steel 3-inch exhaust with Magnaflow mufflers. A Tremec T-56 6-speed transmission with Monster triple-disc clutch and Clayton Machine Works shifter handles all of the power transfer to the rear wheels.

Exhaust tube wrap with Turbo detail in 1979 Pontiac Trans Am

Built to Handle

Having a wider track-width not only in the rear but on the front of the car as well for increased traction around corners ensures that all that horsepower is properly planted onto the asphalt. The Trans Am features wheels that mimic what came on the WS6 option package but are a modernized set of 18x12-inch Year One Snowflake 2-Piece Wheels with custom backspacing in order to tuck 315/30R18 Nitto NT01 track tires in the front and beefier 335/30R18 Nitto NT01 tires in the rear.

1979 Pontiac Trans Am rear wheel with Nitto NT01 Tires

The classic muscle car saw a TCI Engineering Pro Touring front clip to stiffen things up and provide mounting for the custom spindles, Ridetech coilovers and TCI Thunderbird steering with torque arm bars outback. The rear axle was tossed aside for the stronger Ford 9-inch rear end with 35-spline axles and a Detroit Tru Trac Posi with Wilwood brakes. For safety and rigidity as well; a Ridetech Tiger Cage was installed inside the car.

1979 Pontiac Trans Am front wheel detail with Nitto NT01 Track Tires

Timeless Styling

The interior was restored, still making those high school memories recognizable; with a few modern upgrades. A set of 1980 Trans Am Pace Car Recaro seats were covered in period-correct material and Corbeau 4-point harnesses. AutoMeter gauges provide the necessary readings from the high horsepower engine that likely still isn’t drowned out by the sounds coming out of a full Alpine Type R stereo system.

Interior Seat detail of Jessie's 1979 Pontiac Trans Am

The body of the Trans Am was resurrected from the junkyard, repaired, restored, and repainted in black before being hit with the Phoenix Graphix Gold Bird decal kit to keep the classic Bandit car look intact. Fesler Flush front and rear glass finished modernized things a bit. But the most dramatic change came with the replacement of the rear tail lights with Digi Tail sequential LED lights.

1979 Pontiac Trans Am golden phoenix graphic detail

When one thinks of a classic muscle car; the 1960s era of cars comes to mind. But as one era begins to hit the downside of its trend-cycle; in comes the next generation of cars once thought to be the ugly stepchildren. Applying all of the same performance power tricks and using the styling cues of their era helps to fuel the popularity of the former throwaway cars. 

1979 Pontiac Trans Am rear end

Thankfully, the Jewart family never tossed aside their Trans Am; even though it came close to seeing that fate a few times.

1979 Pontiac Trans Am doing a burnout


VEHICLE 1979 Pontiac Trans Am
OWNER/BUILDER Jessie Jewart/Jessie’s Performance & Och’s Performance
ENGINE DART 427 SHP Pro LS Machined by Och’s Performance w/4.125 bore & 4-inch Stroke, Diamond Pistons, BTR Camshaft, Frankenstein F Series Cylinder Heads, Frankenstein Billet Intake Manifold, Holley Dominator EFI, Dual Xona Rotor 76mm Turbos
TRANSMISSION Tremec T-56 Magnum Transmission, Quicktime Bell Housing, Monster Triple Disc Clutch, Clayton Machine Works Shifter & Pedals
ACCESSORIES MagnaFlow 3-inch Stainless Steel Exhaust, Custom Turbo Headers, Griffin Radiator, SPAL Electric Fans, Optima Red Top Battery, Holley Oil Pan w/Melling Oil Pump, Wegner Accessory Drive
SUSPENSION TCI Engineering Pro Touring Front Clip & Swap Bar, TCI Thunderbird Steering Rack, TCI Custom Spindles, RideTech Coilovers, TCI Engineering Rear Torque Arm
AXLES Ford 9-inch Housing, Moser 35-Spline Axles, Eaton Tru Trac Posi, 4.56:1 Gears, Wilwood 6 & 4-Piston Brakes
WHEELS 18x12-inch Year One Snowflake 2-Piece Wheels
TIRES 315/35R18 & 335/30R18 Nitto NT01 Tires
BODY Black with Phoenix Graphix Gold Bird Decal Kit, RideTech Tiger Cage, Fesler’s Flush Mounted Glass, Digi Tails Sequential Tail Lights
INTERIOR Recovered 1980 Trans Am Pace Car Recaro Seats, Corbeau 4-Point Harness, Year One Console & Steering Wheel, AutoMeter Sport Comp 2 Gauges, Lizard Skin Under Coating, Alpine Type R Stereo System & Double-DIN Head Unit
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